Saturday, October 3, 2015

Fades and Contrarian Plays: Week 4

All of our FanDuel NFL coverage is free this week. So if you're not a subscriber, this is a great chance to look under the hood and see what we're made of. You can follow this link to our FanDuel landing page, which hosts all our weekly features and tools. Enjoy!

One of those weekly features is a tournament strategy piece that analyzes Thursday ownership percentages, and identifies which chalk plays we should avoid and which ones we should target. You can read it in its entirety here.

Since we're open to the public this week, rather than posting an excerpt per normal, I'm going to go into some the thought process and the theory behind fading players.

First and foremost, we should check in to see how the chalk play is doing through three weeks. The table that follows is taken from The Contrarian, which is a follow up piece that analyzes a few under-owned players. Here are the highest owned for each position, per Thursday night GPPs (since that's the data we're basing our strategy off of), and their subsequent fantasy points:

Week Position Player  Own %  Price FPs
1 QB  Sam Bradford 14.8 $7,500 15.44
1 RB Eddie Lacy 23.2 $8,500 16.9
1 WR Davante Adams 27.5 $5,500 7.9
1 TE Greg Olsen 18.5 $5,900 1.6
1 K Brandon McManus 14.7 $4,500 18
1 Def New York Jets 16.9 $4,400 17
2 QB  Drew Brees 13.9 $8,900 13.1
2 RB Carlos Hyde 33.4 $7,000 8.1
2 WR Julio Jones 37.7 $8,800 20
2 TE Rob Gronkowski 16.8 $8,300 20.8
2 K Josh Brown 13.7 $4,500 9
2 Def St Louis Rams 17.2 $4,900 4
3 QB  Tom Brady 31.5 $8,700 22.72
3 RB Dion Lewis 20.9 $6,700 15.2
3 WR Julian Edelman 38 $7,700 12.5
3 TE Rob Gronkowski 32.3 $8,400 12.1
3 K Stephen Gostkowski 11.1 $5,000 17
3 Def New York Jets 17 $4,500 3

Not great, Bob. Chalk is averaging 13.02 points. There are a lot of factors in play but you get a sense of why fading a popular play might work out in your favor.

But it's more than just looking at projected percentages and bypassing every player that's heavily exposed. We need to be more logical. We need to study matchups and use Vegas betting lines to guide our choices. And when using Vegas, we need to know how to implement that info when building lineups, but also consider that Vegas can be wrong. Last week only four games had an over/under greater than 46 points. Nine games scored at least 47 with four them hitting 60+.

Sometimes, the best way to be a conrarian is to fade Vegas. As an example, the over/under of the Rams/Cardinals game is 44 points with the Cardinals favored by six. This projects a score of 25-19 in favor of the home team. In theory, Carson Palmer should still be in play, as should Larry Fitzgerald. However, we may not be giving enough credit to the Rams defense in this situation. Football Outsiders currently ranks them sixth overall, and ninth against the pass. Thus far, Palmer has been sacked only once, the fewest among all quarterbacks. The Rams have the second most sacks with 13. Something has to give. I think it's a much closer game and Fitzgerald doesn't reach tournament value. Therefore, I listed him as a fade.

And this isn't about "Vegas being wrong". It's about being on the right side of Vegas. It's also about understanding when and why an under-owned player should be in our lineups. This topic came up in a staff email regarding the exposure of Colin Kaepernick and Karlos Williams (I'm going to use Kirk Cousins instead of Kaepernick as an example, since I briefly and uncomfortably plugged him as a contrarian play this week). Maurile Tremblay, mastermind behind the Interactive Value Charts, said it better than I can so I'm going to quote him verbatim:

"Suppose we have a 100-person contest with a tournament-style payout structure (you can make it winner-take-all for simplicity; it doesn't matter), and each lineup consists of a single player -- either the Broncos defense or the Raiders defense. Suppose the Broncos defense is a 2-1 favorite to outscore the Raiders defense, and suppose that 80% of the entrants will own the Broncos.

It is easy to see that the lineups with the Raiders will win money, on average, while the lineups with the Broncos will lose money, on average. (Two-thirds of the time, 80% of the lineups will split the prize pool; one-third of the time, 20% of the lineups will split the prize pool. The latter group is the one that is +EV.)

The Raiders defense was more unique, and that's the one that was profitable. Does that mean that uniqueness is beneficial?
No. What made the Raiders defense profitable was that its 33% win rate was greater than its 20% ownership, and in that sense they were under-owned. But it's not at all the case that unique players are inherently under-owned while chalk players are inherently over-owned. Change the numbers from the example a bit -- make the broncos 7-1 favorites to outscore the Raiders rather than 2-1 favorites, and now it's the Broncos, at 80% ownership, that are under-owned while the Raiders, at 20%, are over-owned.

In general, uniqueness might be correlated with under-ownedness. That's an interesting empirical question that is worth looking into. But the correlation would not be perfect in any case, and there may be plenty of situations where 60% guys might be under-owned because they are actually 70% likely to outscore similarly priced players at their position -- and that may well be the case with Karlos Williams this week."

Nailed it. This is along the same logic John Lee laid out in a Rotogrinders forum last year and something we dug into with more specifics in Week 1. Using that logic, we have even more ammo to fade Fitzgerald. For him to hit tournament value (3x) he'll need to score more than 22 points. He has done that twice already this season, which is fantastic. But he has done it only 32 times in his career over 173 games--18.5 percent of the time (per Thursday GPP data, he is 27.1 percent owned). History is against him doing it three times in four games.

Kirk Cousins, on the other hand, only needs 18.3 points to hit value. Over his limited starts (12 games with at least 10 pass attempts), and I grant you sample size gets in the way, he has scored at least 18 points seven times, including last week--58 percent. So we can comfortably say, according to past performance, Cousins is going to give us 18 points at least half of the time. Whether or not that happens in Week 4 remains to be seen. The Eagles defense may be the play, since they have allowed a quarterback rating of 81.7--seventh best--and have one interception for every touchdown allowed (five). But they have allowed the tenth most passing yards and this game has an over/under of 47 (second highest of the week) with Captain Kirk and Co. home-dogs by 2.5 points. Smells like a GPP to me.

Again, it's all about the process. Outliers win tournaments and they're impossible to predict. Which is why seeking out under-owned players is so important.


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